[JURIST] The UN's Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday began conducting its fitness hearing [materials; press release] to prosecute individuals for mass killings and other crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge regime [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The hearing will determine whether the defendants are well enough to stand trial. The hearing commenced with two aging defendants who are among the four surviving senior Khmer Rouge officials facing the ECCC for crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge's reign between 1975 and 1979. Charges include genocide, murder, torture, religious persecution and other crimes against humanity. According to the ECCC, at least 1.7 million people died under the Khmer Rouge's leadership due to torture, starvation and execution. The Trial Chamber's substantial hearing to examine evidence and witnesses is anticipated to begin by early next year.
Earlier this month, judges for the ECCC announced [JURIST archive] that they had "serious doubts" that the suspects being investigated by the court are those "most responsible" for the for alleged war crimes. The tribunal is responsible for investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Cambodia's communist Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s. In June, the ECCC began the initial hearings in the trial of four former Khmer Rouge leaders [JURIST report] constituting Case 002 [materials]. The four leaders include Nuon Chea, who was Pol Pot's second-in-command and the group's chief ideologist, former head of state Khieu Samphan, ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary, and his wife, Ieng Thirith [case profiles, PDF], who served as minister for social affairs. All four pleaded not guilty to charges including crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture.